The day came, and Preacher started… with quite an over-the-edge first episode, just as it was supposed to be. In Pilot there’s one character we didn’t see in the trailers: John Custer, portrayed by Nathan Darrow. John is the father of Jesse, and we only see him in flashbacks during his son’s recurring nightmares. Apparently, the man was a preacher as well, and he prompted his son to be “one of the good guys”, inspiring him to follow his footsteps… just before being shot and killed by an unknown assailant, obviously before his son’s very eyes (he also told him not to cry, as the Custers “don’t do that”). Well, in the comics John Custer has never been a preacher, but his end is exactly the same… even if we’ve seen very little of him in the show so far. In the meanwhile, let’s see who his comicbook counterpart is.
John Custer was born with quite big shoes to fill: his father was a Marine, and he had fought a number of incredibly dangerous battles during World War II. Since he was a child, John was told that war was an ugly thing, but that your country was always worthy to bleed and die for. With stories of war and heroism in his mind, John enlisted in the Marines as soon as he was of age, wanting to become just as his father, and entered the 3rd Marine Division. He was sent to Vietnam, really wanting to serve his country and to protect its values… but he soon realized that his war was nothing like his father’s one, and that most of his friends died with no purpose, often victims of the idiocy of incompetent commanders. Still he fought, and despite hating every minute of it, he distinguished himself as a war hero, even gaining the Congressional Medal of Honor for his acts of selfless heroism (particularly, he was rewarded for bringing to safety a wounded comrade in arms, Billy Baker, carrying him on his shoulders for miles in the jungle). Both Custer and Baker emerged severely wounded from their shared adventure, and this allowed them to be moved to desk jobs until the end of their turns, until it was finally time to come back home. Back in Texas, things weren’t exactly much better: the public opinion was widely against the war, and many of his countrymen considered him some sort of butcher rather than a war hero as he had wanted to be; a hippie girl he had asked information for a bus to, Christina L’Angelle, even spat on his face, calling him a “baby killer”. John moved on without reacting, and the girl followed him: she apologized for spitting on him, telling him that she was just doing what she believed her friends wanted her to. John and Christina spoke for a while, got to know each other, and after barely an hour they were in love. John and Christina moved to live together, and little more than a year later they had a son, Jesse. John was finally happy… but he didn’t know that Christina had a past she was desperately trying to escape from.
John raised Jesse, showing him all of John Wayne‘s movies (the Duke was John’s hero, and he would have become Jesse’s as well) but avoiding telling him stories about Vietnam (something that Billy Baker, still John’s best friend, did in his stead). This normal and tranquil family life went on until Christina’s original family finally found her, who was a runaway: two men from her house, Jody and T.C., broke into the Custers’ house, and assaulted the family. John was soon overpowered, and the two men would have killed him, but they found out that he was Jesse’s father: not knowing how to handle the situation, they decided to bring back home, to Angelville (the residence of the L’Angelle family), man, woman and child, and to ask the matriarch of the family, Marie L’Angelle, what to do with them. Marie, who had wanted Christina to marry a man of her choice, acted comprehensive… on a certain extent: he forced John to marry his woman according to the law, then imposed them to raise Jesse according to L’Angelles’ family values and traditions. These values and traditions proved to be extremely brutal, and overall the Custers where now de facto prisoners of Angelville, as it was forbidden for all of them to leave the place and/or to disobey Marie’s orders. Needless to say, a former soldier like John just didn’t want to give up, and waited for his chance to attempt an escape. The occasion arrived five years later, and just before leaving John, who knew that he would have been killed if he was caught, took Jesse and left him what would have been his spiritual last will: “You gotta be a good guy, Jesse. You gotta be like John Wayne: you don’t take no shit off fools, an’ you judge people by what’s in ’em, not how they look. An’ you do the right thing. You gotta be one of the good guys, son, ’cause there’s way too many of the bad.” Then, he ran… but he didn’t go far: he was caught not even two miles from Angelville, brought back, and shot right before his son’s eyes. His words, however, were carved into Jesse’s mind and heart, and he would have never been forgotten.
John Custer is a good man, and a brave one: despite hating the war he was fighting, he privileged his honor and fought with all his heart and strengths to protect his comrades (and his country as well), and now that he is a civilian he has the same will and commitment in protecting his family. With a solid morality and a strong character, John is just the hero he wanted to be as a child looking at his father… only, he doesn’t always realize it.